The swelling fermata as the chord dies;
There once was a time I was sure of the bond
When my hands and my tongue and my thoughts were enough
We are the same but our lives move along
And the third one between replaces what once was love
The sun was shining in the clear blue sky above her, a gentle breeze blowing across the perfectly even, perfectly perfect garden. She sighed in discontent, feeling guilty because honestly it was being a bit of a cow to be resentful of a life given to you by the man who loved you so much he couldn't contemplate the thought of you being gone.
But. It was a perfect world, run by a little girl. They had every book every written at their disposal, to have adventure in, to explore, to wonder at, but she'd long grown tired of it all. Miss Evangelista, Anita and the Daves loved it – it was a far better thing than being dead, at any rate. But for her, they were just stories. Stories you couldn't live in, you couldn't die in – so where was the thrill of adventure? More and more now, she spent her days lost in her own memories, or spent them taking care of the children. Pretend, made-up children she'd never had an opportunity to create for herself in her lifetime.
She felt her eyes grow painfully dry in the sunlight, so she scrubbed at them before picking up her diary from the ground beside her. In here, just as it had been in her life – she carried it everywhere. Charlotte had offered to upload it into the database, but she'd refused repeatedly. Re-living imaginings of her adventures with the Doctor would just torture her. And the memories in between these pages were hers alone. She would only share them with one other, and he wasn't here to see them.
She'd been contemplating the thought more and more of asking Charlotte to just do for her what the Doctor hadn't been able to do. Let her go – delete her files. Endless days of endless perfect and endless loneliness were all that she could see stretched before her, and unlike the Doctor, she had no adventures to distract her. No marvellous blue box to take her away from these feelings. No one to run with.
A thump and a muffled sound startled her, and she turned around to see a woman struggling to her feet awkwardly. She was small, with dark hair and a confused expression, in a tattered Victorian ball gown. River stood with a frown – wondering if somehow something had gone wrong with the program. Had one of the books characters somehow managed to get into the mainframe? "Hello?" She spoke tentatively, causing the woman to jerk around, her face lighting up upon seeing her.
"Water!" She stumbled a bit as she moved towards her, and River held out her hands to catch her. "Wait no – that's not right. Not water. But water. No – I need water."
"I can get you water, darling. Are you alright? Where did you come from?" She took her hand, attempting to lead her away but the woman refused to move, a frown on her face as she stared at her.
"Oh from above and below. All around really. I'm everywhere. All at once. River!" She shouted suddenly and River looked at her in shock. "Not water, River, I need River. Names can be difficult sometimes, you know. I've no idea why I came down in this body – I only had it for a few hours, but I suppose I needed to talk, so a body I had to have. At least it doesn't feel as empty and large as it did that last time."
"What? I'm River." She stared at the strange woman in shock, and she threw her head back and laughed.
"Of course you are. I know that." They were standing close together now – Rivers hands on the strange woman's arms and the woman was clutching her back with equal force. "It's why I came. River. River – the only water in the forest. I told him – well tried to tell him, but he's an idiot sometimes. Most times really. He didn't listen. Well he listened, but he didn't pay attention."
"Who... who are you?" She felt oddly like she recognized this woman, even though she'd never ever seen her in her life. The woman's sharp gaze fell on her and she tilted her head, as if searching for an appropriate answer.
"I'm sexy – no wait, that's what he calls me. Only when we're alone. And we're not alone right now – even though technically, we are. Poor Doctor's hurt himself though. Accidentally on purpose you see, I get ever so cross when he doesn't listen to where I'm telling him to go." She spoke rapidly, and River's heart constricted in her chest, enormous pressure squeezing tighter and tighter until her breaths were shallow, barely there. She felt like she was suffocating. Which was ridiculous because she wasn't even breathing, not really. It was all just a part of the program.
"Tardis?" She voiced the name in a choked voice and the woman before her beamed and moved a bit closer.
"Yes! Unsurprisingly you caught on much quicker than he did once. I've come for you River." She spoke rapidly and River felt her legs give out from beneath her and she sank to the ground, pulling the Tardis woman with her.
"Come for me?" She echoed disbelievingly. "But I'm dead. I'm here forever. He put me here."
"A choice then really. I cannot give you life again, River. But I had a human body once, for one day, and I spoke with our Doctor and it was oh so lovely. When we talked. We can't anymore, he's tried a million ways, but none of them work even though I told him the answer before he'd even begun." She spoke rapidly, in an odd halting voice and River was looking at her in wonder, her hand reaching up to touch the other woman's hair softly.
"He never told me about that." She whispered and Tardis shook her head softly.
"Daft old man in an impossible box – he never sees the truth." Tardis reached out and touched River's hair in turn, smiling in delight. "I told him right away, as many ways as possible, the first time you stepped foot inside of me, River. But he doesn't listen. Doesn't pay attention to all the things I let you do. All the things I did for you. But this will be perfect, really. A choice you choose, only I know you'll listen much better than he ever could."
"Does he know that you're here?" River wondered suddenly and Tardis giggled with a shake of her head.
"The last coordinates we went to were forty-seven, fifteen, fifty-three slash acorn, three, three, three, seven."
"The towers." River breathed out in shock and the Tardis nodded solemnly.
"He was so sad, so very very sad when he came back. I could feel it all – all through me and all through him. I was sad too. Am sad." Her face fell and River felt an overwhelming urge to hug her, so she did, wrapping her arms around girl and squeezing tightly. "Oh hugs! I should have tried those. Much better than kisses or even biting. Everybody wins."
River laughed, pulling back and looking at the woman in front of her seriously. "But darling, if you just went to the Towers, why have I been in here for so long?"
"Time exists everywhere, everywhen, now and then and then and now and over here and over there. I see everything – all of time, all at once. So do you now. It's been not long at all out there but in here, it's like in me. All at once. All of time. Like a dream, or a nightmare." Tardis shuddered and gripped River's hands in her own.
"So he does know that you're here?" She was confused, and the Tardis shook her head, with a slight grin.
"No. He was so sad he didn't even want to travel anywhen. Anywhere. He told me he didn't care where we went – and that made me angry. I don't like it when he doesn't care. He always cares. So he hit the random button, and then he turned off my stabilizers. Again. I mean it's not like I didn't put them in there last time for a reason! Boringers. Well, if he's just going to turn them off willy-nilly when he feels like it, I'm going to show him why they're there. I may have added a bit of extra turbulence, and he may have hit his head a bit harder than anticipated. He's fine though!" Tardis rushed to reassure River, as her heart plummeted at the girl's words. "Perfectly fine. I took us here, and downloaded my matrix and here we are. He'll wake up in a bit – I scanned him before I left." Tardis waved airily and River looked at her gravely.
"He wouldn't want you to be here." She pointed out softly and Tardis scoffed.
"Well he would if he knew what I could do. But the idiot doesn't listen to perfectly clear instructions. He'd do it himself if he understood how, but he doesn't and I'm tired of waiting." Tardis pouted, crossing her arms and sitting back, glancing over at her. "Are you ready to hear your choice River?"
"Alright..." River couldn't possibly see what the ship had to offer her, but Tardis beamed and took her hands again.
"You could stay here, of course. Option number one. But option number two is that I can take you back with me." She let go to clap gleefully and River felt shock sweep through her.
"Go... back? But how?"
"Not the same. Not ever the same. You'd have to come with me. I've made room for you, you know, in my matrix. You'd still be you of course, and you'll have a voice – and a consciousness. So you could talk to him. Isn't that grand? I could talk to you and you could talk to him, and we'd all be together again." She was bouncing about a bit like a delighted child and River looked at her in wonder. She could be with the Doctor.
But not be with the Doctor. Her heart cracked a little under the weight of that particular thought. Tardis reached over and took her hand, squeezing it.
"We could work on that. Physical form. If we used some of the old chameleon relays – not as though I'm changing my appearance, am I? I think we could make it so he could see you. Maybe even make you solid. I think I could do that. He'd like that, I know. Such a human thing – physical contact, but he does love it so, and I'd so love to give him that." She was smiling and then frowned for a moment, even as River stood and pulled her up alongside.
"I just have to tell Charlotte-"
"A warning though, River Song. You aren't technically alive. So like me, no leaving the box. No adventures. We just have to watch. And wait. But good thing about being not technically alive is that we can't technically die. Which is always nice." Tardis patted her hand softly once, and then grinned. "Ready then?"
"I haven't agreed yet." River protested but Tardis just laughed, a light sound that filled the air around them.
"You love him as much as I do. You chose him just like I did, and he chose us. Look at you two – time and space – a snake eating its own tail. Endless circle of choices you make over and over and over again. Even when they hurt. Even when they kill you. Of course you're coming." Tardis spoke slowly as if she were explaining all this to a small child, and River laughed, because she supposed to this being she was a small child.
"Of course I am."
"Good! Because to be honest, there was no choice. We need you – so I was taking you with me no matter what." She closed her eyes and then Charlotte appeared next to them, looking sad. "I've explained to her. To all of them, all at once. Say good-bye. And then we get to the hellos."
River crouched down, hugging Charlotte tightly. The little girl looked sad, but she smiled at her as she pulled away. "It's okay. I understand. We were never meant to keep you, River. Can you come visit sometimes?" River wiped the girl's eyes and looked over her shoulder at Tardis, who nodded calmly.
"Of course I can. We will. I promise. Tell the others Charlotte, tell them I'm sorry. Tell them goodbye for me." She hugged the little girl once more and stepped back to take Tardis' hand.
"I will. I promise. They'll understand. We'll see you again." Charlotte smiled and waved and River looked over at Tardis, seeing golden light spread out around them, wrapping them up tightly in the shimmering light.
The next thing she was aware of was being in the Library – not The Library, but in Tardis' library. It was disconcerting, because she could feel the deck below her feet and see the books lining the shelves, but she could also see everywhere within the Tardis, in her mind. She shook her head carefully, looking down to see she was still in her white dress and sweater from The Library.
I liked it.
River could hear the Tardis, but it wasn't like a voice really – more like a thought that surfaced in her own mind, but she recognized as not her own thought. "Where is he?" She stage whispered and she could feel the hum in the floor rise in frequency as she heard laughter in her mind. Where he always is. "Control room. Right then." River stepped out of the Library and started to walk the winding corridors – each one so similar to the last. "I've always thought we should colour code these things, or something."
Too many rooms. Too many halls. Not enough colours. She was silent as she walked the path, taking the left, then a right, past the kitchen, through the wardrobe, down the stairs into the sleeping quarters. You could just show up there you know. Anywhere, no walking needed. "Yes, well, he'd probably die of a heart attack if I just shimmered into existence before him." She was still whispering, not really knowing why she was talking out loud, but the Tardis seemed to like it, she could tell by the way the floors light hums followed her footsteps.
And popping down the stairs won't give him a heart attack? River frowned, she had a point there. "Should I maybe call out?" No, let's surprise him. He always says he loves surprises, but only when they're his surprises. River laughed slightly at that, quietening down as she crept closer to the control room. She was holding her breath, she realized – which was a bit ridiculous, she didn't need to breathe now, did she? She still found herself inhaling at the thought though. She could hear him as she approached the room, slipping through the doors and standing on the balcony above the console.
"- highly inappropriate and don't think I don't know you did it on purpose. They're boring though. They make everything all steady and normal and while I'll admit that has come in handy a time or two when you're trying to get other things done, the point is, sometimes I like the bumpy-wumpiness of the ride. And also when people fall down. That's always good for a laugh. Not that anyone was here to fall down but me, and don't think I don't know that was on purpose, old girl. And you stuck us in the Vortex." He was striding and twirling around the main console, thumping here and there, and pulling wires out as he went, re-wiring them and checking the screen as he did so. "And erased the history file, so obviously you're up to something, but what?" River almost cried, just at the sound of his voice – his ridiculous, gorgeous voice, wrapping all around her. It felt like lifetimes ago, and she heard the Tardis laughing softly in her head. Tell him he has to apologize for this rant – and he attached my couplings incorrectly, it's annoying. And I'm not speaking to him until then. And then there was a hum and it felt like something left her, freeing up space in her mind and River sighed in relief, pressing her hands to her forehead. This would be tougher than she'd originally thought. She just hadn't comprehended how vast Tardis was, and trying to communicate with her was like trying to stuff all the world's knowledge in your head at once. She wondered if it would get any easier, and felt the Tardis' reassuring hum through the floors and walls.
"And who are you apologizing to like that, hm? Quite right you owe me an apology-" But even as the Doctor spoke, the lights in the console dimmed and the hum of power stopped all together. "Oi! And where are you going? You can't just give me the silent treatment! Come on. No seriously, come on. Girl?"
She slipped down the stairs, standing behind him and shaking like a leaf. Oh God – what if this wasn't what he would have wanted? The Tardis did know him as well as anyone or anything ever could – but what if- what if-
"Oh my God!" His shout startled her and she jumped, looking up to see him staring at her as though she were a ghost. Which – she supposed she was. "What is this? Who are you?" He had his sonic out and scanning her before she could even open her mouth to respond; he was flicking it open and then staring at her in shock. "That can't be right. This can't be right."
"Doctor," she finally managed to get a word in edgewise and he jumped backwards, tripping and landing on the console, one hand still clutching his screwdriver and one bracing against the fall. "Doctor, calm down, sweetie."
"You can't be here. Oh god - this is it. I've finally gone mad. Bonkers. Absolutely nutters. I'm seeing my dead wife and she's talking to me, but I know that you're dead. I watched you die – years and years ago. All that light and then just gone – and it hurt, River, it hurt so much, but not as much as it hurt to know I was sending you there. I couldn't do anything – if I didn't let you go I never met you, and you made me promise. Not one line. I'm talking to a figment of my imagination. What is wrong with me?" He stood, pacing around the console quickly, smacking himself on the head and stopping to just stare at her every now and again.
"Can I talk now? You idiot man. Of course I'm dead. And not so dead, as it turns out. Well I am dead. Just here too. Oh, this is difficult to explain." She sighed in frustration, and started to follow his footsteps, since simply watching him was making her dizzy. "I was in the mainframe – for years it felt like. Not years as it turns out, but I felt like I was there forever. And then today – Tardis just drops out of the clear blue sky."
"No she didn't! We've been in the vortex, and what would a box dropping out of the sky solve, anyway?" He turned on his heel to face her, waving his arms and stepping back when she stepped in closer.
"Not the box, the woman. Tardis. Crazy black hair and old tattered dress. Kind of manic but in a calming fashion if that makes any sense." She snapped back at him, crossing her arms and glaring at him. She understood why he didn't want her near him, she did. He thought she wasn't real, and touching her would prove that. But oh how she longed to just touch him – just feel his skin beneath her hands.
"Wait – what? How do you even know about her-"
"Because she told me. About how she had the body and only got one day – when you talked. And she told me that she gave you a message and you didn't pay attention, as usual, might I add. So she may have knocked you out accidentally on purpose and did it all herself. Just typical too – you ignoring something important-" She was pointing at him accusingly and he jumped forward, anger in his eyes.
"Because it didn't make any bloody sense!" He roared in her face, anger radiating off of him in waves as he stood inches away from her. "The only water in the forest is the river. You think I didn't think about it? Didn't wrack my brain trying to figure it all out – I knew it wasn't random, wasn't meaningless – she was – is – a genius machine. Smarter than me even, of course I knew it meant something. And I'm not an idiot, obviously it meant you but what did it mean? Forests. And water. She couldn't have left a less cryptic message? I've spent years River, years trying to give her a voice. So we could talk. So she could tell me." His voice had lessened in volume and now there were lines on his face – such grief and pain that it almost broke her heart.
She didn't give him a chance to run, just pulled him into her arms, and she felt the shock make him go stiff as a board. Five seconds in though, his arms came around her, wrapping her up so tightly she was actually quite pleased she didn't need to breathe for the first time. His shoulders shook and she felt his tears, hot against her neck. Her hands stroked his back and through his hair, making calming noises all the time. "Shhhh. Shhhh – it's okay. It's okay, sweetie."
"How is this even happening?" His whisper was awed and he pulled back to look down at her, one shaky hand tracing the side of her face. "Oh, River, please – if this is me going mad or still unconscious and sprawled across the floor somewhere – please don't tell me about it. Don't tell me. Please." His whisper was raw with pain and she opened her mouth to speak but he was kissing her, and she lifted her hands to the sides of his face, kissing him back fiercely. His hands kept sliding from her face to her neck to her hair, down her back, over her hips – like he couldn't quite convince himself she was real. She pulled back and took a deep, unneeded breath before placing her hands on either side of his face.
"Listen to me. This is not you going mad. Well, no more than you already are." She smiled up at him and he laughed hollowly in response, his hands still tracing her arms and shoulders, hips and waist. "She went to The Library, sweetie. She downloaded her matrix to the mainframe, and she told me her plan. She liked when you could talk. She liked it then, and she loves you so very much, dear. So she thought about it, and she knew that if she could... upload my consciousness to her matrix, well – I could be the translator. She could talk to you –through me."
"But it's you, not her. Right now, this is you. River. My River." His hands were pushing her hair back again, fingers running through the strands in a familiar pattern and she closed her eyes and smiled softly.
"No, no, no." She opened her eyes and shook her head at him. "Not through me. I can hear her. Up here." She tapped her head and he looked at her, his expression shocked. "And she wants me to talk to you for her. All of us, together again."
"But – but –" He looked flabbergasted and she knew just how he was feeling so she pressed a small kiss to his chin and grinned up at him. "But how are you... here. I can touch you, can feel you, I can even smell you, oh my God River..." Tears welled in his eyes again and she shook her head, and pulled his face to hers until their foreheads were touching.
"Chameleon circuits. You didn't destroy them you know, but she loves being a box, so she diverted the main energy through them, and made me real. Solid." He pulled back, jumped out of her reach and smacked his own head.
"Of course." He scanned her once more with the screwdriver and turned it around, showing her the reading. "See, I read your energy signature, but it's almost overwhelmed by huron energy." She arched a brow at him in exasperation and he grinned sheepishly, shoving the screwdriver in his pocket again. "Sorry, dear. Sorry. Not the time to be scanning you." He stepped closer and pulled her back into his arms and she sighed happily, wrapping her arms around him. "Oh my god, she's brilliant." He pulled away again, running a hand over the console before leaning forward and pressing a kiss to the glass time rotor. "You're brilliant, thank you." There was no movement from the machine though and he glanced over his shoulder at her.
"She's mad at you for hitting her. And she said that you attached her couplings incorrectly. So apologize, and fix her, sweetie." She leaned against the console next to him and he grinned madly over at her, leaning over for a moment, and pressing a swift kiss on her mouth before running to the other side of the console, muttering apologies as he nimbly pulled other wires out and adjusted them. The lights came up quickly, and the rotor began its reassuring whooshes again. Look at how happy he is. We all are! The pressure built in her head again and River shook it, bringing a hand to her head. I'm sorry – I'm trying to fix it. The pressure eased somewhat and River sighed in relief.
"Can you hear her? Right now?" His hands were on her waist and he pulled her into him as he whispered the question. She smiled gratefully at him, because he seemed to understand that this wasn't comfortable for her, even though she'd not said a word.
"She's happy that you're so happy. That we're all so happy." And we can talk now. All of us. And I love you both so much. River dutifully repeated the Tardis' words and felt a gentle hum of happiness in response.
"Does it hurt you?" He frowned, bringing a hand up to the back of her neck and rubbing gently as she leaned into him.
"Mmm? No, not... hurt exactly. It's just a lot to have in my head. She's trying to make it better, but I think it might be because I'm in a physical form. And I'd not give that up, even if it hurt like hell, sweetie." She wrapped her arms around him and he pressed a kiss to the top of her head and stroked her hair gently.
"I don't want you to be-" Tell him I'm not going to do it all the time – you'll be fine. And it's not as though I knew it would hurt you- "-not if it puts the energy matrix flow at risk, I could-" –I wouldn't destabilize the matrix, I would leave before that ever, ever happened – "- though I suppose we could-"
"Would both of you just shut up for a minute!" She put her hands up to her head and silence reigned for a blessed moment. "Turns. We need to take them. No interrupting – Tardis, he was talking before you. I can't listen to you both at once, it's too difficult." The Tardis hummed in apology, and River slid her hand down the console lovingly. She turned to the Doctor who was watching her with concern. "If we ever have issues with it, she'd rather leave me than hurt me, you know that. It's not a constant thing – she comes and goes. Be nice to her, sweetie."
"Of course, of course – I mean she's my – and you're here. I'm extremely grateful. So very, very grateful. Honestly!" He spoke quickly and she smiled weakly up at him. I won't do it again.
"Thank you." She sighed in relief, before turning to look at the Doctor. "What about companions – have you got one now? Anyone travelling with you?" She watched as he shook his head, sadly.
"Not after you – I wasn't – I'm not ready." His hands stroked her sides gently as he pulled her even closer to him. "And now you're here –"
We don't need more strays. You and I are enough, aren't we? "No, darling – no. We can't be enough." She spoke to Tardis and he frowned at her before understanding crossed his face.
"That's going to get confusing." He spoke wryly and she simply looked at him with a winged brow. "Worth it though, totally and so very worth it."
"She thinks you won't need to collect anymore strays." She laughed, and he frowned, his hands smoothing through her hair.
"I have you both now and I-"
"No sweetie, you still need the company. Their wonder. It keeps us all in check. Besides which, I can't leave the Tardis, and you need someone with you – all the trouble you get in." She smiled up at him and he dropped a kiss on her nose.
"I do not get into trouble; it just always seems to find me somehow. River, are you alright with that? Never leaving?" He watched her seriously and she nodded. He's worried it's not enough for you. A... half-life. River wondered if it was very fair to him, to have this advantageous ability to sort of telepathically read her husband, but she figured it was the least he could do.
"I'll be fine, sweetie. I'm used to being stuck in one place, and for the first time in my life it's the one place where you'll always be. Best possible option, if you ask me." She smoothed her hands over his shoulder and arms and he looked unconvinced. "Besides, Tardis and I will keep each other company then, won't we?"
"What kind of company?" His eyes narrowed suspiciously and she laughed out loud.
"Really, Doctor? How kinky of you."
"Well you did say she said she loved both of us." He pointed out and she smiled at him indulgently.
"Jealous? Of which of us exactly, I wonder?" She teased him and Tardis laughed in her mind. Both. "Nothing to worry about, sweetie. You know we both love you, very much."
"Well of course I know that. It's just a bit odd that's all. How am I supposed to explain this to people? Meet my sentient ship who talks through my dead wife sometimes, except she's not dead, not really – she's just stuck inside my ship forever and both of them are liable to make bad things happen to you should anything untoward happen, so please keep all your urges to yourself and everything will be fine?" His arms are flapping slightly and he is hitting levers as he talks, and she is adjusting them as soon as he does.
"That sounds about right. Oh, and if I so much as hear about any of your friends breaking those rules outside of our Tardis-" Long range scanners. "Oh yes, that's right, isn't it darling? Never mind sweetie – she and I have worked it out. Though you might want to avoid the young, impressionable ones for a while. You know the type; they swoon all over you and fall in love before you've even opened the Tardis doors. It's actually your favourite type, now that I think of it." She mused out loud and he stared at her in horror.
"Oh god, what am I going to do with both of you?" He looked terrified for a moment and he glanced fearfully down at her. "You'll gang up on me, I know you will!"
"And you'll love every bit of it, sweetie." He smiled at her words, pulling her closer and leaning down to whisper in her ear.
"Oh, yeah..." He pulled back and she stood on tip toe to press a kiss to his mouth. He made a noise of soft contentment and she moaned in response while the Tardis sighed happily in her mind and the ship hummed all around them.
All of us, together.